Could street art become marketers' secret weapon this summer?
A view from Andrew Parker

Could street art become marketers' secret weapon this summer?

Once an irksome pastime considered anti-social and unwelcome, street art has suddenly become one of the most vibrant and immediate forms of advertising, with many brands utilising its powerful impact, writes Custard Factory's Andrew Parker.

But why is an art form previously the delectation of behooded counter-culture urchins forcing itself into mainstream consciousness?

Perhaps first we should go back to the beginning. The concept of "street art" has its roots in the far more impish hobby of graffiti. We all remember swear words and phallic symbols scruffily scrawled on the backs of doors or on school desks by giggling rascals.

Well this simple act of mischief has now morphed into a vivacious art form, examples of which stand proudly alongside the most revered of "classic" art. But why? What has driven this underground form of expression onto the high street and into the population’s favour?

The answer largely falls at the feet of one mysterious Bristolian. Banksy. The mono-monikered enigma who has become a household name. Prints of his now infamous work hang upon the walls in the homes of lawyers, accountants, school teachers and police officers.

An irritation once scorned upon by "civilised" society now adorns the domestic walls of the very people it always sought to rebel against. That transcendence is what makes it such a powerful tool in marketing. The popularity of street art is growing almost exponentially.

The recent City Of Colours festival here in Birmingham drew well over 10,000 visitors and attracted artists from all over the world. While the sharing of street art across social media platforms, bolstered by groups such as Global Street Art and Google Street Art, is organically growing its own loyal and expanding audience.

The festival attracted huge numbers of visitors. So what is in it for brands? Why are they embracing street art? Perhaps the age of the "selfie" lies behind it.

People love to take photographs of themselves. Consumers are armed with cameras and hungry to snap themselves in front of something eye-catching, something cool, something different. And when the picture is taken, it is shared. And shared and shared, across a vast network of likeminded potential customers. Therein lies the power of street art and its bankable worth.

This power was illustrated to us at the Custard Factory recently when a huge 60-foot mural promoting the Tom Hiddleston movie High-Rise appeared on the side of our building. Becoming a beacon for selfie snappers everywhere, the sight of phones held aloft became commonplace and no doubt ensured that the film gained a level of exposure to an audience away from the traditional channels.

More recently, everyone’s favourite future James Bond, Idris Elba, looking rather sheepish perched on a cherry picker at the side of a London pub, put the finishing touches to a giant Star Trek Beyond mural. The film gained a heap of surreptitious exposure when the story was picked up by the national press and shared widely on social media.

But is this just a flash in the pan film marketing ploy? Nope, not in the slightest. Mega brands are embracing the strategy (Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Microsoft, Domino’s are companies that have been particularly pro-active in street art ads).

The recent replacement for the aforementioned High-Rise mural was a vibrant Grolsch mural standing tall, while Jack Daniels filled the Birmingham public with festive cheer with some timely seasonal greetings plastered on the same space over Christmas last year.

Ultimately, the notion of street art being used as a marketing tool is relatively new and niche.

Canny marketers looking to find innovative and fresh angles to utilise this guerrilla style of advertising will undoubtedly explore and grow the practice. This in turn will serve to liven the sector and retain the interest of clients and public alike.

As much as it will displease Banksy and his spray-can-carrying brethren, street art is fast becoming the darling of the capitalist class, the very culture it was originally created to counter.

Andrew Parker manages the digital marketing for Fazeley Events and Birmingham's creative and arts quarter, the Custard Factory